Thinking Well About Things (Other Than Politics) by C.C. Pecknold

C.C. Pecknold is assistant professor of systematic theology at The Catholic University of America. He is most recently the author of Christianity and Politics: A Brief Guide to the History (Cascade 2010).  His article is written to Catholics but is certainly applicable to all Christians (and perhaps even to non-Christians).  Follow the link at the end to the remainder of his thoughts.


One of our greatest living philosophers, Alasdair MacIntyre, recently gave a lecture at the University of Notre Dame titled “Catholic instead of what?”  MacIntyre always has a way of provoking thought, of unsettling our categories, and helping us to understand ourselves and our place in the world.  This brilliant lecture was no exception.  He began by observing that Catholics have always understood themselves in contrast to something else.  That is a particularly good starting point for any post-election analysis since Catholics have been increasingly reduced to a political caricature of what they are against (contraception, abortion, redefinition of marriage).

MacIntyre stressed that Catholic Christians have always lived the Christian story in such a way as to unfold its communal learning before the whole world, largely in terms of affirmations and denials.  For example, Catholics have always believed and affirmed “that God exists, that the Word was made flesh, that the bread and wine of the Eucharist becomes Christ’s body and blood, that the pope and the bishops teach with apostolic authority.”  But Christians also disbelieve, as often in response to confused internal claims (such as heresies) as to external claims (counter narratives).  In each particular time and place, Catholic Christians have disbelieved anything that provides grounds for rejecting the Catholic faith. That is, MacIntyre stresses, “a reflective Catholic is always a Catholic rather than something else.  So Augustine was a Catholic rather than a Manichean; Pascal was a Catholic rather than a skeptic or a Cartesian; Maritain was a Catholic rather than a materialist Bergsonian, etc.”

MacIntyre was asking, as he so often does, what it means to be a Catholic Christian in a secular culture.  But the context of his comments suggested an even more timely question in the post-election season – one akin to the one he asked in 2004 by reflecting on why he would not be voting – what does it in mean to be a Christian in a liberal democratic culture such as ours? What does it mean to be a Christian in a thoroughly polarized political climate, with a “vulgarized liberalism” on one side, and a “vulgarized conservativism” on the other?
I am prompted to step back from our fractious political climate for a moment to assess:  where are we now?  How do Catholics understand themselves in the wake of the last election?

In response to a quite important policy question concerning the HHS mandate, MacIntyre had the good sense to affirm the Bishops in their fight.  It is the Bishops, after all, who have led us to ask ourselves (more than anyone else) the question: “Catholic rather than what?”  Yet MacIntyre also paused at the dangers implicit in the fight.  Is it possible for Catholics to simply become coopted, subsumed, reducible and redefined by politics?  He gave this important caution: “If we are going to think well about politics as Catholics in the United States now, there are a lot of things other than politics that we have to start thinking well about [too].”  And I think one of those things that Christians need to think well about are the narratives that shape how we ourselves think about the shape and scale of our politics. In every age, Christians have found their own narrative to be at odds with other narratives that in some way deform or divide the fundamental unity of Christian faith.  At times, Christians can be subtly coerced, often by the psychological force of the general will of the culture they inhabit, to make affirmation and denials that do not flow from their own substantial commitments as Christians, but which mirror affirmations and denials of another narrative.

Currently the literature is awash with accounts of why Christians are more aligned with Republicans, or why Christians are more aligned with Democrats, but I must admit that I find both suggestions equally worrisome.  To say that a Christian must be a Republican rather than Democrat, or a Democrat rather than Republican – while having some intellectual cogency with respect to the hierarchy of moral truths under consideration – seems also to be a sign of a very deep confusion worthy of reflection.  It should signal a warning:  the deepest commitments of Christians are being parceled out for other purposes, deformed and divided for political ends which undermine Christian faith.

Continue reading here.

What Christian Women Think About Lifestyles, Priorities and Time Commitments

Part 7 in series: Women of Faith in Leadership

Women in American churches know how they want to be perceived by others: they want to be influenced by the Bible, and reject the idea of being heavily affected by the media. But is this an actuality or merely an aspiration?                                                                                                     -David Kinnaman, President, The Barna Group


by The Barna Group

If spirituality were Olympic gymnastics, most Christian women would give their personal faith top scores. Three quarters of Christian women say they are mature in their faith (73%). The good feelings continue when it comes to ongoing spiritual growth, as more than one third (36%) of churchgoing women say they are “completely” satisfied with their personal spiritual development, and an additional 42% say they are “mostly” satisfied. Only one quarter (23%) of these women admit they are less than fully satisfied with their spiritual growth.

When it comes to their personal relationship with God, only 1% confess they are “usually not too close” or feel “extremely distant from God.” The vast majority of women claim to have an “extremely close” (38%) or a “pretty close” (43%) relationship with God. An additional 17% feel more ambivalent, saying they are “sometimes close and other times not close.” Perhaps this perception of intimacy with God is driven by the fact that slightly more than half (52%) of the women surveyed say they take time every day to intentionally evaluate the quality of their relationship with God.

Family Over Faith
Though women project a calm, confident exterior when it comes to their faith, the research suggests their spiritual lives are rarely their most important source of identity. That role is taken up by the strong priority Christian women place on family.

The preeminence of family was most overt for Christian women when it came to naming the highest priority in their lives. More than half (53%) say their highest priority in life is family. By contrast, only one third as many women (16%) rate faith as their top priority, which is less than the cumulative total of women who say their health (9%), career performance (5%) or comfortable lifestyle (5%) are top on their list of life objectives.

Despite the characterization of women as intricately connected to their peers, only 3% of Christian women say their friends are their top priority, equal to those who place finances (2%) and leisure (1%) at the top.

What a Woman Calls Herself
Women’s sense of identity very closely follows their priorities, with 62% of women saying their most important role in life is as a mother or parent. Jesus came next: 13% of Christian women believe their most important role in life is as a follower of Christ. In third place is their role as wife (11%).

Any other roles women identify with came in at similarly low rankings and far below that of a parent, including that of employee or executive (3%), that of church member (2%) and that of friend or neighbor (2%). American citizen, teacher and caregiver all rank with one percent each.

Goals in Life
Perhaps not surprisingly given where they place their identity, Christian women also point to family-related objectives as their most important goal in life. Raising their children well is the highest goal for Christian women (36%). While, roughly one quarter of Christian women identify faith-oriented goals as most important (26%).

Though women consider themselves family-driven, their marriages may be suffering from a lack of intentionality: only 2% of Christian women say their most important goal in life is to enhance their relationship with their significant other. Marriage comes in below several other goals, including health (6%), career (5%), lifestyle (4%), personal growth (4%), morality (4%) and financial objectives (3%). Only goals related to personal appearance, relationships outside the home and travel come in lower than marital goals.

Women Like Their Lives
Maybe one of the reasons women often fail to mention marriage-related goals is that they are generally quite satisfied in their marriages. While Christian women claim high levels of satisfaction in many facets of their life, they are most satisfied with their marriages (59%) followed by their parenting (51%). Although these findings cannot entirely explain women’s lack of marital goals, it does suggest many Christian women find some of their deepest contentment in life from their marriage.

Satisfaction levels drop somewhat when it comes to areas of life outside the home—particularly as they relate to serving people in the community (26% are completely satisfied with this area of their life) and to using their gifts and abilities (31% are completely satisfied). Personal spiritual development, career, relationships outside the family and involvement in church are all areas of life with which women are modestly satisfied.

Major Influencers
Most people recognize they are being influenced by outside forces—and in many cases, such influence is welcome, even invited. And then, of course, there are influences people would rather not admit affect them at all. Such is the case with the women surveyed. Christian women are more than willing to admit they are influenced by their faith—particularly through reading the Bible and listening to sermons, with 75% of those surveyed saying the Bible has influenced them “a lot,” and 51% saying the same about sermons. Most women also readily admit their husbands have an impact on their actions and decisions, with 63% of married women saying their husbands influence them a lot.

However, after those top three influencers, women are much more reticent to admit they are swayed by outside voices—particularly when it comes to friends and media. Only 10% of Christian women say their friends have a lot of impact on their decision-making (though 51% say their friends do have “some” influence on them). An even lower number of women will allow that the media has any influence on them, with only 5% admitting the media influences them a lot, 25% saying the media influences them some and a striking 70% claiming the media has “little” influence over their decision making.

What it Means
The president of Barna Group, David Kinnaman, offers this commentary on the research. “Some may interpret this research as a false choice: can women be asked to choose between their role as a parent and that of their faith? They see motherhood as core to what it means to disciple and be discipled. Others may conclude this study shows too many women have created an ‘idol’ of their family, perhaps at the expense of their devotion to Christ.

“Between these extremes, perhaps these stats should help both moms and dads to consider the favorable—and potentially unfavorable—ways parenting has affected their faith journey. And church leaders, too, must wrestle with key questions: Has raising children and doing it well become central to the definition of being a good Christian? What happens to a mom who struggles in her role as a parent or to a woman who wants to but cannot become (or never becomes) a parent? Are these women somehow perceived as less Christian by fellow believers? Could a grace-based theology of faith in Christ be undermined if many Christians embrace a parallel works-based theology when it comes to their parenting? For church leaders and influencers the research underscores the complexity and importance of the God-given role of motherhood for millions of women.”

When asked to explain why so few women say they are influenced by media, Kinnaman adds: “In many ways, women’s self-perception revealed in this study seems to be aspirational. Women want to be influenced by the Bible, but they reject the idea of being heavily affected by the media. So these aspirations may be reflected in the numbers. Still, the way women describe themselves reveals something: they seem to know how they want to be perceived by others. Other findings in the survey reflect this pattern: women seem to be laying claim to a life they want, even if it’s not always current reality.”


Next:  David Kinnaman Interviews Lisa Whittle on Women in the Church


About the Research 
The study on which this report is based included telephone surveys with 603 women who are ages 18 or older who describe themselves as Christians and have attended a Christian church service within the past six months (excluding holiday services or special events). These Christian women were randomly chosen from the 48 continental states. The maximum margin of sampling error for a sample of that size is estimated to be within +/- 4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. There are other forms of survey error that cannot be statistically estimated.

Tribute to my Father, Warren Kenneth Stratton (1933 – 2012)

Dear Two Handed Warrior Community,

I am too overwhelmed to write much now, but I wanted to explain why it has been quite awhile since my last post.

On June 4 I arrived in Bedford, New Hampshire after doctors informed our family that my father’s pulmonary fibrosis was advancing so rapidly he might have as few as two days to live.

He made it twelve beautiful, but heartbreaking days of affection and prayer.  This morning we buried him in the Bedford town cemetery after half the town turned out for his visitation and poignant memorial service.

My family put together this tribute to dad.  I will write more later and try to get our back-logged guest posts up and running, but I wanted to share a bit of his life with you.

Grateful for your prayers and support,

Gary David Stratton, Senior Editor



Warren Kenneth Stratton

Warren Kenneth Stratton, 78, of Bedford, NH, pioneering aerospace leader who retired to become a pastor to New England’s pastors, died June 15, 2012 after a brief illness.
 Warren was born in Boise, Idaho on December 5, 1933, and married the love of his life, Joan Baker in Richland, WA in 1953. They raised four children in Media, PA and have twelve grandchildren.

Warren served in the U.S. Army and graduated from the University of Washington School of Engineering, where he later taught as an adjunct faculty member.

After working on Boeing’s original pre-Sputnik space shuttle program (code-named “Dinosaur”) in Seattle, WA, Warren moved to Boeing’s Vertol division in Philadelphia, PA. He became one of the world’s leading experts on field safe fiberglass helicopter rotor blade design, and project manager for the iconic twin-rotor Sea Knight Navy and Coast Guard rescue helicopters, responsible for the saving of countless lives.

In 1982, Joan and Warren moved to Westlake Village / Thousand Oaks, California, where Warren helped spear-head the creation of the Army’s famous Apache attack helicopters for Hughes Aircraft, and later became vice president of Northrop-Grumman’s Newbury Park division responsible for much of the Air Force’s cutting-edge stealth technology.

A truly remarkable engineering leadership career preceded an even more impressive mentoring ministry

Warren and Joan retired to Bedford, NH in 1995, where they became beloved pillars of the Bethany Covenant Church, serving the congregation in numerous capacities. In “retirement” Warren volunteered as a trustee and consultant to numerous non-profit ministries and churches. Dr. Stephen A. Macchia, past president of Vision New England and founder of Leadership Transformations at Gordon-Conwell seminary described Warren as “a minister to New England’s ministers.”

Warren will be remembered as a warm and loving husband, father, grandfather, leader, and friend who could always be relied upon for his compassionate listening, straight-shooting advice, and off-beat sense of humor.

 He loved golf, tennis, bridge, chess, photography, poetry, suspense novels, and hard-hitting non-fiction.

A romance of over 60 years

Other than his God, his wife, and his family and friends, Warren’s greatest love was spending time at his cabin on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, where he could be found with a fishing pole in hand, a broad grin on his face, and a gentle admonition to always “be safe.”

He was dearly loved and will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

Family members include his wife of 59 years, Joan (Baker) Stratton of Bedford; two sons, Gary David Stratton and his wife Sue of Hollywood, CA, Scott Stratton and wife Kerstin of Bedford, NH; two daughters, Laurie Stratton Bruns and husband John of Lafayette, CA; Diane Stratton Dunkle and husband Steve of Bedford, NH; as well as his beloved grandchildren—Dan and Leslie Stratton and Christopher and Patrick Dunkle of Bedford; Alex Jones, Melissa, Jessica, and Tylor Bruns of Lafayette, CA and Ashley, Jordan, Joshua, Micaiah Stratton of Hollywood, CA; nephews, nieces, and cousins.

Click here for slideshow of pictures from Dad’s remarkable life (at bottom of page).

Screenwriting 101: A Step by Step Guide to Achieving the Impossible – Step 4, by Christopher Riley

Like painting a house, the prep work is often more important than the paint itself

by Christopher Riley

Part of ongoing series: Screenwriting 101: Why Story Structure Matters, Even If You Don’t Want It To

Step 4: Develop The One

Uber Screenwriting Team, Chris and Kathy Riley

Now that you’ve chosen the one — the one movie that you are going to write (step 3), you need to do your prep work.  You need to develop that one until it shines.  If you were painting your house, this is where you would wash the walls, remove the switch plates, and tape off the crown molding – the part of the job that determines in large measure the quality of the result. This is a big bite so we’ll cut it into smaller pieces.

Step 4a: Collect Mad Ideas.

Hold your analytical powers at bay while your imagination cooks up the coolest, baddest, sickest, sweetest (depending on your age) scenes this movie can provide. The things that made you fall in love with the idea in the first place. The trailer moments. For a drama, it’s the moment that breaks our hearts. For an action film, it’s the sequence that breaks the bank. You don’t need to know how these moments forward the plot. You don’t need to know where they fit into the structure. All you need to know is that you love them. Ten Mad Ideas represent a good start. Twenty is better. You won’t use them all. You’ll use the best. Write them down. Set them aside.

Step 4b: Identify models.

Find examples of the best-loved movies that are like the one you’re writing, movies that work like yours in terms of genre, structure, and cast, and that appeal to a similar audience. Study these masterworks and learn from them. Analyze how they are put together. How do they begin? What happens at the story climax? What are the stakes? What sorts of obstacles does the protagonist face on the way to what kinds of goals? What role does the antagonist play? Which emotions do these films deliver?

The artist within us chafes at this advice. We don’t want to copy. We don’t want to follow the pack. Granted. But we mustn’t deny ourselves the opportunity to discern the principles that make films appeal to audiences and critics, especially the best films in the genre in which we’re working. Learn all you can from these models, resist the lazy impulse to copy them, and instead harness the physics that makes them soar as you create something entirely new.

Step 4c: Build your characters.

Find answers to the two most important character questions. First, know what your hero wants, the goal for which she will strive no matter the cost. Second, understand how your hero needs to grow and change. How is she damaged or deficient and how does that keep her from reaching her goal?

Secondary questions include the following:

* Why do we root for this protagonist?
* What is this character’s superpower? What hidden strength can she draw on to reach her goal?
* What terrible thing will happen if she doesn’t reach her goal?
* What terrible thing will happen if she doesn’t grow and change?
* What obstacles will this character encounter that will require her to change?
* What are the five or six defining moments that have shaped this character for better and for worse? You already know, for example, that your hero is broken; here you discover how she came to be broken.

Ask these questions about your hero, yes, but also about your antagonist. Ask them about your supporting characters. Build characters, even villains, whom you understand because they represent some part of you. Draw on life here, not on what you’ve seen in the movies.

Make your characters vivid and complicated, rife with contradictions and secrets – but always driving toward that single goal. And plant within them the seeds of the change that will occur as they journey over, under, and through all obstacles toward their goal. You may find it useful to write a page or two in each character’s voice to discover how they talk and what they think about things. Some of what they say may find its way into the script. Much will find its way into your imagination and round out your understanding of who they are.

Blake Snyder describes 15 beats which make up movie structure

Step 4d: Find your structure.

I’ve written elsewhere about the necessity of story structure. I’ll say here only that without it you can’t sustain audience interest and your movie will collapse like a tent without poles.

Structure arises from your hero’s struggle against obstacles toward the goal. It is the shape of your story. That shape comes in three acts: Aristotle’s beginning, middle, and end. In Save the Cat!, Blake Snyder describes 15 beats which make up movie structure.

Eight Essential Story Points

Kathy and I use what we call our Eight Essential Story Points. Each of us is describing something we observe in virtually every movie with broad audience appeal, every movie that grabs us on page one and holds us in our theatre seats spellbound until the end despite our aching bladders and that guy in the row in front of us talking on his phone about the infection that’s eating away at the nail on his big toe and turning it a funny green color. That’s structure. Kathy and I define our Eight Essential Story Points like this:

1. Opening – The hook. Grab the reader with something visual, fresh, weird, or mysterious that asks questions whose answers we do not know. Show something the audience has never seen before. Tell us important things about our hero and the status quo of his life. Should be consistent with genre. What makes this day special? (Begins on page 1.)

2. Upsetting the Apple Cart – An incident disrupts the status quo in the hero’s world and sets his story in motion. (Usually lands in the page 10 to 15 range.)

3. End of Act One – Something happens that cuts off any possible return to the status quo; our hero is shot out of a cannon or caught in a trap; he can’t go back, he can only go forward; he is challenged at the point of his internal need for change. (Happens around page 25 or 27.)

4. Beginning of Act Two – Our hero makes a plan to reach the goal. (Immediately follows the end of act one.)

5. Midpoint – A major development spins the story in a new direction; the hero’s plan is adjusted. (Happens around page 55.)

6. End of Act Two – A crisis; the hero’s plan fails; all hope is lost. (Happens around page 80 or 85.)

7. Beginning of Act Three – Our hero makes a new plan that requires him to grow and do something he’s never done before at the most basic level of his deepest need for change. The new plan results from the new person relying on a new capability. (Immediately follows the end of act two.)

8. End of Act Three A final showdown. The new plan succeeds (or fails) and our hero achieves his goal (or doesn’t), often in an unexpected way that satisfies not the want but the need for growth and change. (Concludes by page 105 or 110.)

Film structure does not represent a formula to be followed or avoided. Structure represents an essential element in successful film design. You can observe this pattern in bad studio movies, sure, but you can also find it in your favorite indies and foreign films, not to mention your favorite studio blockbusters.

Step 4e: Write a treatment.

Armed with all of this prep, you’re ready to write a treatment. Think of the treatment not as a blueprint for the film but as a selling tool that pitches its best features. Examine a good movie trailer, one that made you want to go out and see a movie you’d never heard of. You won’t usually find much plot detail. Instead, you find compelling characters and riveting character dilemmas. If it’s a comedy, you get some of the best comic moments. If it’s action, you get jaw-dropping, original action set pieces. Trailers string together Mad Ideas. Build your treatment the same way.

Write a pitch for your movie in simple, present-tense, third-person prose and pack it with your characters and your best Mad Ideas. How does this help you? By focusing your creative attention on what exactly makes your movie one everybody wants to see. And the answer to that question will help you write a better screenplay.

The extended courtroom sequence in “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a single scene built of several smaller units

Step 4f: Write a beat sheet.

This is your blueprint, a working document that may be dreary to read but will brilliantly guide you as you write your first draft. What exactly is a beat? Think of a beat as a unit of story roughly equivalent to three pages of script. In most cases, it’s the same thing as a scene. Less frequently, it’s a portion of a very long scene telling a discrete piece of the story. Think of the extended courtroom sequence in To Kill a Mockingbird, a single scene built of several smaller units: Atticus cross-examines Mayella and catches her in a lie; Atticus questions Tom and elicits the truth; the prosecutor cross-examines Tom and provokes him to declare a deeper and more dangerous truth; Atticus delivers his closing charge to the jury, imploring them to do their duty. (For more on beat sheets, see Blake Snyder’s discussion of The Board in Save the Cat!)

In every beat, something changes. The hero learns that his dog can talk. Dorothy gets vacuumed up by a tornado and leaves Kansas. Dorothy meets and frees the Tin Man. Dorothy meets and frees the Scarecrow. You’ll need about 40 beats to make up a feature-length story. You can write your beats on index cards, Post-Its or PowerPoint slides, anything you can arrange, adjust, edit, shuffle, place, and replace until you’ve got your plan.

Next Post in the Series: Screenwriting 101 – Step 5: A Step by Step Guide to Achieving the Impossible, by Christopher Riley

See also: Why Story Structure Matters, Even If You Don’t Want It To, by Christopher Riley

Are Christians Writing “Edgy” for the Wrong Reasons? by Jeff Goins

Good art tests boundaries. It always has. We artists just need to check our motives (and egos) before we endeavor to create it.

A Conversation with Randy Elrod’s: Why Christians Are Creating More “Edgy” Art, and C.J. Darlington’s, “Writing edgy… for all the wrong reasons.

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Sometimes in our quest to usher art in to the world, we artists can cross the line. Certain projects involving urine and crucifixes come immediately to mind as potential candidates.

But what about the importance of uncensored expression? What is a creative to do in this distracted world where sometimes shock value is the only thing that grabs an audience’s attention?

As a person of faith — and a writer — I am constantly struggling with these questions.

Edgy art isn’t enough

Christian author C.J. Darlington wrote an interesting post about this, entitled, “Writing edgy… for all the wrong reasons.” In it, she raises a good point — for Christians and non-Christians alike — calling us writers to check our motives before writing something that is edgy, controversial, or contentious.

I’ve been known to write a provocative article or two in my time (see: “A letter to the Affluent Church“). Once you see a maelstrom of comments flooding in over something you wrote that touched a nerve, it’s hard to stop. The attention is addictive, which can be extremely dangerous.

In her post, Darlington addresses this:

In the last couple of years I’ve noticed a trend in Christian fiction. More and more aspiring authors desire to write edgy fiction. And by edgy I mean pushing the envelope of what has generally been considered acceptable in novels regarding violence, sex, language, etc.

Now I’m all for writing real. I want my characters and situations to be true to life. I don’t want to write about saints. But somewhere there’s a line, and I admit, it’s a gray one. Personally, I think it comes down to motives. Why do we want to write edgy? Is it to shock? To do it because we can?

An alternative to controversy

There is, of course,  an alternative to creating edgy art just because you can:honesty. Some creatives, in their search for understanding and meaning, are creating art that is honest. It just happens to be provocative.

I am completely in favor of work that challenges and pushes our thinking, that calls our core beliefs into question and causes us to dig deeper into what we think we know.

We need more of that kind of writing in this world (and in Christianity).

Photo credit: Frederic Bisson (Creative Commons)

What good art does

Good art tests boundaries. It always has. We artists just need to check our motives (and egos) before we endeavor to create it.

Ultimately, we all want our work to matter. We want our creations to count. And the only way to do that is to approach our crafts with honesty and integrity. To write what is true even when it offends.

There’s nothing wrong with writing edgy, and there’s nothing wrong with writing not edgy. What is wrong — especially for a person of faith — is to write something that isn’t true to your deepest convictions and core beliefs. True to who you are and what you stand for. Denying that creative impulse would be a tragedy.

So whether dark or cheery, we all need to write words that are honest. Anything else would be writing for the wrong reasons, indeed.

Do you write edgy just because you can, or because you hope it will make a difference? Share in the comments.

2012 MOVIEGUIDE AWARDS: Tonight on the Hallmark Movie Channel


The Hallmark Movie Channel will broadcast the 20th Annual Movieguide Awards TONIGHT! Hosted by TVs Superman, Dean Cain, the program honors the year’s best family and mature audience movies. Appearances include Grammy-nominee Natalie Grant, actors Antonio Banderas, Jim Carrey, Billy Bob Thornton, Salma Hayek, Robert Duvall, Angela Lansbury, Kevin Sorbo, Corbin Bernsen, Miss America Teresa Scanlan, Pat Boone, AnnaSophia Robb, Kristy Swanson, Bella Thorne, Gregg Sulkin, Jimmy Bennett, singer B.J. Thomas, and the Muppets.

The MovieGuide Awards honor the Best Movies for Families and Best Movies for Mature Audiences, including the Faith & Freedom Awards for Promoting Positive American Values, the Grace Awards for Most Inspiring Performances in Movies and TV, and the $100,000 Epiphany Prizes for Most Inspiring Movie and TV Program of 2011.

For local viewing times and other Movieguide Awards info click here

Top Ten Culture Shaping Moments of 2011, by @Qideas

Q Ideas Top 10 Culture Shaping Moments of 2011:


“Love is The Movement” Message Given Primetime Platform and 1 Million Dollars

Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love on Her Arms, delivers a beautiful primetime speech highlighting the gospel motivated message that “everyone has a story” and not to believe the lie that you are alone. Miley Cyrus introduced Jamie and shared her support for the movement.


Charity:Water Heralded by President Obama as Humanitarian Example for a New Generation

Scott Harrison, founder of Charity: Water, was highlighted in President Obama’s speech this year at the National Prayer Breakfast as a model for giving back in the world.


Ending Modern Day Slavery Becomes Key Social Issue in Culture

CNN Creates “The Freedom Project”, All Saints Fashion Brand launches a line of shirts in partnership with Not For Sale’s Founder, David Batstone and the State Department, in partnership with Justin Dillon, create the Slavery Footprint Application that is being used by millions to calculate and remind people of how many slaves support their lifestyle.


USA Today Lauds Q Conference as “Signature Annual Gathering For Christian Leaders”

Q is being recognized as the key convener for next generation leaders wanting to engage current issues facing Western culture. Gabe Lyons’ interview of Imam Feisal (the leader of the proposed “Ground Zero Mosque”) was highlighted by The Huffington Post as a model of civility during the ten year anniversary of 9/11.


Digital Bible Listed as #1 in USA Today’s “Top 10 Coolest Book Apps”

USA Today recognized Phil Chen’s GloBible, an interactive digital bible, as 1st place on their list of Top 10 coolest book apps.


MTV, Billboard, and Examiner Recognize Downtime Project As “Revolutionary” to the Music Industry

Jay Harren, formerly of Columbia Records, created Downtime—a platform designed to connect touring musicians with causes they want to support while on the road. Major media was quick to pick up on the depth and possibilities this project brings to artists and their fans.


Help Portrait Movement Goes Global

Jeremy Cowart is a Los Angeles Based celebrity photographer, who has recently broadened the scope of his work. His non-profit organization, Help Portrait, has engaged over 10,000 photographers in 54 countries to give over 101,000 portraits away to people who would never have the opportunity to have a photo of themselves or their family. CNN has consistently promoted the Help Portrait movement since its inception three years ago.


Two Songwriter’s Featured in Soundtrack for One of Most Influential Film Franchises

The soundtrack to Twilight: Breaking Dawn was released in November and features two songs written by two Q participants: Ryan O’Neal [Sleeping at Last] and David Hodges [sung by Christina Perri] The album debuted at #4 on Billboard and sold 105,000 copies in it’s first week.


The New York Times Affirms ‘Q Debates’ as Innovative Approach to Discuss Major Issues of Our Day

This fall Q partnered with Halogen TV’s Kyle Young and Becky Henderson and recovered the lost art of Debate. We took one big question; “Does Reality Television Do More Harm than Good?” and invited Ivy League debate teams to take a stance. New York Times writer, Neil Genzlinger attended, and made a compelling case for why debate should make its way back in the public square.


Twelve Businesses Join Accelerator Program Focused on Social Good

Developed in collaboration with Q, Dave Blanchard launched Praxis—a mentorship accelerator program for social entrepreneurs & innovators compelled by their faith to advance the common good. Praxis provides its fellows with the knowledge and network needed to develop high-impact organizations, all within an environment that allows for an exploration of how their work can holistically embody the Gospel.

Merry Christmas!

As Christmas in the Stratton household comes to a close with the traditional watching of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Sue and I wanted to express to you the joy and gratitude that fills our hearts this evening as we think of YOU!


Last year we could barely scrape together a hundred members of the Two Handed Warrior community to whom we could wish Merry Christmas. We were just a few weeks into a modest website devoted to the thin hope of connecting “culture-makers” and “faith-builders” in a vibrant conversation. We NEVER could have imagined just how many people were hungry for just such a conversation.


So tonight, as we prepare to officially relaunch Two Handed Warriors 2.0 in the next few weeks we are full of gratitude for those of you who have walked with us on this journey. It has really been a Wonderful Life!


Merry Christmas!
Gary and Sue Stratton
Senior and Contributing Editors


Two Handed Warriors at Eight Months

Reflections on the Relaunch of Two Handed Warriors

Dear Two Handed Warrior Community,

When Sue and I first launched Two Handed Warriors eight months ago we never could have imagined how many people would connect with our theme. All we had was a deep conviction that an unnecessary dichotomy between faith and culture has plagues both the quality of life and overall effectiveness of an entire generation of leaders.

Leaders adept at culture-making—whether in Hollywood or the Ivy League—are rarely trained in the disciplines of faith-building; whereas leaders with strengths in faith-building—whether in a local congregation or an international relief agency–are rarely trained in the art of culture-making.

It is a dichotomy that not only creates glaring blind spots in our leadership (and personal lives), it also robs us of a vibrant conversation with other leaders from whom we have the most to learn.

We launched Two Handed Warriors in hopes that it would inspire an ongoing conversation among educators, filmmakers, business and spiritual leaders devoted to gaining expertise in BOTH faith-building and culture-making. Our hope was that (in time) such a conversation might help birth a movement of intellectuals, artists, leaders, and philanthropists who could redefine faith and culture for an entire generation.

Our hunch was that such a movement of experts in such diverse fields could be unified by developing a common “school of thought” centered on a deeper understanding of “the stories we live by” at the deepest level of our societal and personal worldviews. Or at least that story was one place where filmmakers and college professors, musicians and CEOs, scientists and pastors could meet as equals and develop a common language for tackling the reintegration of faith and culture in their own lives and in the organizations they lead.

On the one hand, THW has exceeded our wildest dreams. Readership has outstripped anything Sue and I could have imagined. On the other hand, THW still has a long way to go in fostering the kind of conversation we envisioned.

Toward that end we are going to try a few new strategies in this next year.

First, we’ll be hosting a series of face-to-face conversations among key leaders in variety of settings–Entertainment, Education, Ministry, etc.–to help better understand the unique issues facing leaders in each setting and (Lord willing) foster the kind of relationships required for a deeper ongoing conversation. (The next step will be cross-pollination meetings between leaders in different contexts.)

Second, we are going to accept some graciously offered help in upping our social media game. These experts tell us that we are seriously under utilizing Twitter and Facebook and have a very time-consuming email system. Please be patient with us as we try new things and let us now if they are helpful (or not).  The goal is to build community, not annoy people.

Third, we are officially asking for help. We need to solidify our team of writers, editors, photographers, graphic designers, event planners, administrators, etc.  If you have the time and talent we have the need. We’ve got some exciting new pieces and projects in the works, but with my sabbatical coming to an end, we need HELP bringing the website to print and peer group gatherings to reality!

Finally, we want to say thank you to everyone who helped get us this far. We never would have made it without the generous help of so many dear friends. We’d like to give special thanks to Margaret Feinberg, Scot McKnight, Mike Friesen, Dale Kuehne, Dave Schmelzer, Lem Usita, Cheryl McKay Price, Cathleen Falsani, Lauren Hunter, Dean Batali, Sheryl Anderson, Phil and Kathleen Cooke, Erik Lokkesmoe, Jessica Rieder, Michael Warren, Monica Macer, Kurt Schemper, Kevin Chesley, Korey Scott Pollard, John David Ware, Jenn Gotzon, Chris Armstrong, Ashley Arielle, Adam Caress, Dennis Ingolfsland, David Kinnaman, Jay Barnes, Ralph Enloe, McCoy Tyner, Chris Fletcher, Neal and Laurie Barton, Todd Burns, Chris Easterly, Jeremy Story, Bret McCracken, Brian Bird, Ken Minkema, Rich Gathro, Peter Kapsner, Ray and Wendy Hanson, Craig Case, David McFadzean, Dallas Willard, Chuck Swindoll, John Ortberg, Tim and Char Savaloja, Lisa Whittle, Michael Hyatt, Randy Elrod, Ian Collings, Ken Stewart, Dale Schlafer, Dave Warn, Jeremy Story, Mark Russell, Amy Larson, Ben and Rochelle, Jake and Erin, Mario and Kathy, Bill Diggins, Brent Kanyok, Carol Shell Harris, Dave Warn, Doug Clark, Kelly Erickson, Drason Anderson, Keri Lowe, Scott Smith, Steve and Diane Dunkle , John and Laurie Bruns, Wes Wilmer, Wesley Tullis, William Bergeron, René Delgado, Stanley D. Williams, Shun Lee Fong, Jaeson Ma, Jim and Karen Covell, Rodney Stark, Dean Smith, Amanda Llewellyn, Bren and Melissa Smith, Kait Stratton, Ron Jesberg, Brent Kanyok, Randy Elrod, Deborah Arca Mooney, Libby Slate, Jack Gilbert, David Medders, Gabe Lyons and the entire Q Ideas team.

May your tribe increase!

Please let us know if you’re sensing a calling to pitch in.

Grace and great mercy,

Gary and Sue


For more info on Two Handed Warriors, see:  You Shall Not Pass! The Supernatural Power of Two Handed Warfare


On Improving Your Writing By Copying Your Cat

by Ian Collings in Take One Step Back

After pulling an all-nighter to (barely) hit a 7 AM deadline, this just seemed too perfect. Sometimes you just need to laugh at yourself. (Used by permission.)


Much like cats, writers with plot holes can solve some very serious problems with a good nap. (Photo:

Rest and recuperation is very important for a writer. Other people in your ‘real life’ will think you’re being lazy, or task-avoiding, or simply idle. This is not the case.

A cat will plan, adapt, strategize and develop its best ideas whilst sleeping. So it is with writers.

Those tough middle-of-Act-Two-plot-holes do not get fixed by themselves and you can attend all the Creative Writing workshops that you like but nothing improves your own skills like a nap.

Most often, a writer is working at their hardest when stretched out in a hammock, a leg dangling outside, a cool Mojito in one hand and a sun hat on their face. Pure, full-on, no-holds-barred writing. Yes sir.

If you want to improve as a writer – copy your cat…

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